“Now I Lay Me Down…”

We used to teach children to say bedtime prayers by rote:

Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I don’t actually remember praying this prayer at bedtime– partly because it seemed morbid and the stuff of nightmares more than peaceful rest.  Thankfully, my parents taught me more about praying than just this little prayer.  We learned the Lord’s Prayer, and to lift up our friends and family to God’s care.  We prayed for family stationed far from home, family members who were ill or suffering in some way, and for neighbors and classmates we cared about.  We prayed for missionaries and the people and places that called them far away.  We prayed for our nation and leaders. And we prayed confession, and thanksgiving, and worship, and intercession.

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But I was reminded of this old prayer when I watched a video our aunt sent us the other day.  It was a short documentary about a nature photographer who spent over 18 months building up trust with a wild cheetah in order to get “close up” shots of her in the wild– hunting, eating, resting, bathing.  All was going well, until she disappeared on him.  Several months later, a park ranger located her– and her five newborn cubs.  The photographer knew he was taking a huge risk, but he drove his jeep (known to the mother cheetah), and went to the area where she was now caring for her young.  He got out of the jeep and sat down in the grass nearby.  Mother cheetah was nervous, but did not attack.  Hoping this was a good sign, the photographer did the unthinkable– he lay down in the grass, helpless, to show that he was not a threat.  As he moved from the sitting position, the mother cheetah stood up and watched.  As he lay sprawling on the ground, she too lay down, letting her cubs know that they were free to explore.  They came over to the photographer– they bit at his toes, climbed all over him, and let him pet them and poke at them with his finger.  He never sat up, lifted his head, or played rough with them.  He never grabbed them by the nape or spoke.  When they got tired of “the new thing” and returned to their mother, the photographer was able to sit up, move close to the family, and take some incredible photos of the whole group.

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Why did this remind me of a child’s prayer?  The photographer kept saying in the voice-over that it was all about trust– he was patiently building a relationship with this single cheetah for over a year and a half, showing her that he could be trusted.  And he was rewarded by her reaction when he signaled that he wanted to be close to her cubs.  His act of lying down and essentially putting his life in the balance caused her to respond with a similar act showing her trust was complete.  And her act of trust signaled to her cubs that this “new thing” was safe to approach– he could be trusted.  A mother cheetah in the wild can run faster than a sports car and kill without a second thought to protect her young.

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But she lay still and rested in her trust of this man.

How often do we “lay down” in our trust of God– stop brooding, worrying, fidgeting, and fighting to make sense of things, to build a safety net, to get ahead, to keep up with the neighbors, to feed our dreams and aspirations?  The Psalmist in Psalm 23 says, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures…”

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Trust isn’t just about lying down and resting– we are commanded to “Go” to “run the race” and to “stand firm in the faith”.  But what would it look like if people could see followers of Christ at rest in the certainty of God’s provision and power?   What if we opened our eyes to see God patiently building a relationship with us, waiting for the day that we would trust Him enough to enter our daily life?  How much more might our children learn to trust God if they saw parents who followed God’s cue to lie down in peace and hope, instead of scurrying around trying to do God’s work in their own (used up) energy?   What if, instead of praying with a morbid expectation of dying, we lay down to sleep, knowing that our soul is eternally safe, and that our future is secure and blessed because of the One who hears our prayer?

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“Now I lay me down to sleep;
I know the Lord my soul will keep.
If I should live another day,
He then will light my every way!”

The Legacy of a Praying Father

My father was a quiet man.  He loved music, and jokes, and animals, and peaceful summer nights listening to crickets and sipping tea on the front porch.  My father was not a man of lengthy, eloquent prayers.  His prayers were often short, and sometimes punctuated with emotional tears.  But my father prayed.  He led our family in prayer and devotions; he prayed in church on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings.  He spent much time, head bowed, talking silently with his Savior.

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I spoke of a mother’s prayers last month, and they are important.  But fathers play a different role.  My mother’s prayers always seemed to wrap me in a cozy blanket of affection and hope.  My father prayers were more like an umbrella– spreading out over our family to seek God’s protection and grace.  Even if Dad’s voice wavered in prayer, his vocabulary was bold, filled with a rock-solid faith, and a deep sense of God’s power and wisdom ready to be poured out on our family.

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But the most lasting impression I have of my father’s prayers is that of Dad’s reverence for God.  I never, EVER, heard my father take the Lord’s name in vain.  (Not even when his favorite baseball team was losing– again!)  I never heard him express doubt of God’s care, His provision, or His wisdom.  He approached the throne of grace with awe and deep gratitude.  He never lost his sense of wonder at God’s creation, or his sense of awareness of and need for God’s mercy.

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We need men of prayer.  I am so grateful for a husband who prays– regularly, fervently, compassionately, and boldly.  What would happen in our world if more men prayed daily in the quiet of their homes or places of work?  Our society makes fun of men who pray on public platforms, praising themselves as much or more than they praise God.  It denigrates prayer as weakness and hypocrisy, but what if more men of faith led their families in daily prayer?  What if, with trembling voices, more men sought out wisdom and strength to meet the challenges they face, instead of putting on a brave but false face of independence and self-sufficiency?  What if, instead of excusing vulgarity and cursing, more men took the challenge to clean up their language and set better examples.

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If you know men of faith– take some time this weekend to let them know how much their good example means.  Encourage them to finish the race, to keep going, and to leave the kind of legacy that matters most.  And don’t forget to lift them up in prayer!

The Lost Art of Saying Grace

“God is great, God is Good…”
“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest…”
“For what we are about to receive…”
“Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts…”

Saying grace at the family dinner table used to be a tradition.  So much so, that it has been made fun of several times in the movies and on television.  Some families recited a favorite prayer; others selected a family member to do the honors.  Some families held hands; some closed their eyes; some stood.  But NOBODY touched their plate until the Amen.

Grace has fallen out of favor in recent years.  Some families still practice it for the holidays or special occasions, but many of us have lost the art of saying grace.  In fact, many of us no longer have a family dinner table.  Some of us eat, sleep, and live alone; others share a house, but rarely a meal, and never a grace.  I would like to think that many of us WOULD say grace more often if  we made time and effort for it, but many others actually hold grace in contempt, calling it old-fashioned; a senseless ritual, or a meaningless tradition.

I want to look a little more closely at grace– how and why we say it, and what it means (or should mean) as part of our daily walk with God.  Calling grace a meaningless tradition may sound harsh, but it may also be a valid criticism.  If “Come, Lord Jesus…” could be replaced with “Gentlemen, start your engines…”, then it might be time to rethink the entire practice.  Similarly, if we dust off grace, only to say it for company, or to show that we still acknowledge tradition and have “good manners”, we’re missing the point.  Grace should be more than just a moment to bow our heads, say a few familiar words, and dig in…grace has become laughable and spoof-able precisely because it has become senseless, formulaic, awkward, and grudging.

I read a tragic statement by someone who asserted that saying grace is actually “graceless”– tactless and inane.  The writer suggested that when we thank God for food, we are really thanking him for feeding us, and choosing to bless us, as he allows others to starve– that saying grace makes us feel more special/less guilty in light of social and economic inequities, which he blithely allows.  In other words, saying grace, in this person’s opinion, makes us arrogant and apathetic to the condition of others, while giving an unjust God undeserved thanks.

I would posit that it should be just the opposite.  I suppose there are many who pray with the arrogant mindset suggested above, but their mindsets and their hearts are not mine to judge.  True grace is not about the recipient of the grace, or the other potential recipients of grace, but about the giver–God– and his worthiness to receive our sincere thanks.  If I believe that God is indeed unjust, then it makes little sense to feel “blessed” or “special” at all– an unjust God is also a capricious  and unreasonable God who is not likely to be impressed or swayed by my smug “thank you,” anyway.  So not praying doesn’t make me any less arrogant or apathetic toward others, nor does it move me to be more grateful or more generous than one who prays.  It merely passes the blame for all injustice to God, leaving me off the hook, and making me feel more just than God.

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However, if God is loving and gracious, promising perfect justice in his time, and forgiveness to those who seek him; a God who promises to be close to the poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and who are broken and contrite; I am not thanking him for who I am, for what I have, or for what I think he should do.  I am thanking him for who he is and for what he has chosen to give.  And in thanking him for the very things I would take for granted,  I am reminded that blessings are not given for me to boast about or hoard, but to share with others.  That’s what saying grace SHOULD do–cause us to reflect on God’s goodness, and our call to share it with a needy world.

Grace is also an invitation– asking God to be part of every moment of our day, rather than just on Sunday or during a special devotional quiet time.  According to his Word, he’s always present, anyway.  But grace is a way of acknowledging and welcoming that presence.  And that invitation isn’t limited to Thanksgiving or Sunday dinner with the whole gang.  That invitation can be made anywhere, by anyone, at any meal (or snack, or midnight raid on the fridge!)

Is God welcome at our dinner table?  Does he share in our drive-thru breakfast, or our trip to the deli?  Do we allow him to join us at the restaurant, where others might overhear and find us quaint and old-fashioned?  Does he sit with us in front of the TV or computer as we absent-mindedly munch on a sandwich?  Grace isn’t about our goodness, our riches, or worthiness to enjoy God’s blessings.  Grace is about a gracious God who has poured out blessings on a graceless and fallen world; a God who loves us all equally and offers to give us something more precious than food– freedom, forgiveness, and family–forevermore.

“God IS great; God IS good; Now we thank him for our food.”
“Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest; let this food to us be BLESSED”
“For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us TRULY grateful.”
“Bless us, O Lord, and these, THY gifts, which we are about to receive from THY bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

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